Bill Gates: ‘Cute’ tech won’t solve planet’s energy woes

“Bill Gates has a simple plan for the future of energy: Don’t rely on the cute stuff,” Dave Mosher reports for Wired.

“Sure, attaching solar panels to roofs, building windmills in backyards or deploying other small-scale energy technologies is a fine idea, Microsoft’s co-founder told a packed auditorium at the Wired Business Conference: Disruptive by Design. Trouble is, they can’t significantly aide developing nations thirsty for cheap energy, he said,” Mosher reports. “‘The solutions that work in the rich world don’t even close to solving the [energy] problem,’ said Gates, interviewed by Wired Magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. ‘If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.'”

Mosher reports, “During the discussion, Gates was especially enthusiastic about one nuclear energy company called TerraPower, in which he’s investing undisclosed millions. By using far less-toxic depleted uranium as fuel (instead of the enriched type), the on-paper reactors should produce one-one-thousandth of typical radioactive waste.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn W.” for the heads up.]


      1. You didn’t get the memo that fossil fuels were put on earth by divine intervention?

        You thought that coal got there from decaying, buried rain forests? You imagined that oil and gas came from decaying plankton and other sea creatures buried at the bottom of an ancient salt water basin?

        Foolish little girl.

      2. I want you to try and stop using any and all products that comes from fossil fuels and then tell me how your life is. Small minds only think of gasoline when they hear fossil fuels however so many useful biproducts comes from it. Me you and many future generations will be long gone before thus fuel runs out. The earth is constantly making this stuff and so it is the ultimate renewable resource.

        1. I would LOVE to have you tell us the links and references to where it says the Earth is constantly making fossil fuels. It COULD if we gave it a few million more years but at last count we are using 82 million barrels of oil PER DAY and increasing.

        2. Damn straight brother! There’s at least 200 years of oil on this planet, so let’s use whatever we can now. Screw our great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren, they’ll figure something out.

    1. No one is denying its effectiveness, the issue is the amount of it that remains and the skyrocketing demand for it. Oil (thus gasoline) has been an amazing vehicle for delivering huge amounts of energy (work) for a relatively cheap price.

      Those days are fading quickly.

      1. Sorry, but I must vehemently disagree with your assertion. There is very little about “fossil” fuel that is undeniably “fossil,” nor are we about to run out of it. Oil is a complex hydrocarbon that has been ASSUMED to come from animal and vegetable matter . . . but that most certainly does not explain the location of the resource (North Pole anyone?) nor its scarcity of geophysical recovery zones. Here’s another “fact”: Oil is the carbon-based life-blood of this planet, not unlike all other carbon entities (us? diamonds?) and is no more in danger of disappearing than plants are.

        Start thinking for yourself, Killer, and do your own research. Al Gore and his ilk know NOTHING about this resource. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. They’re just watermelons: green on the outside, red on the inside.

        1. And so you’ve never heard of wells that run dry?
          America and many ME nations have hundreds of them.
          How come they run dry when they can never be depleted according to you?
          Is crude oil creation the holy grail of a perpetual motion machine?

        2. Don’t even go down the road with this abiogenic oil regeneration theory. This isn’t even remotely being accepted by anyone with any real credibility and is just a red herring being used by people who want to deny that we are acting irresponsibly with what oil resources we have left.

          1. I work on energy policy every day for over 5 years and this is the first I have ever heard of this crackpot theory. This is really the stuff of elves and pixies! Yeah man and LSD is the carbon based lifeblood if the mind, let’s have another, man!

            As for oil at the north pole, that is because hundreds of millions of yrs ago, the planet used to be sickeningly, swelteringly hotter than today, including at the poles, and jungles and planktons and dinosaurs all grew there, and died, and made oil. It will be that hot again in just a few short human generations, unless we quickly accept that fossil fuels really are fossils- technologically, ethically, and morally, without regard for how much more of that ancient death we can rob from its graves and burn in our engines.

            1. Millions of years my ass. God created the earth in 4004 BC and created enough oil to power our planet for millions of years.

              Next thing you know you’ll be spinning some fairy tale about how the continents move and that what is now at the poles used to be in tropics.

            2. “As for oil at the north pole, that is because hundreds of millions of yrs ago, the planet used to be sickeningly, swelteringly hotter than today, including at the poles,…”

              Sounds like global warming is a natural turn of events. So much for Al Gore and the minions who follow his warped view of climate change and weather.

        3. Why do people defend oil like its a part of the family? There are so many parts to the periodic table and to life that we haven’t even begun to understand but are digging deep to find out. Back when oil was just being discovered, it had scrutiny and problems becoming popular with the masses. History will repeat itself, and oil will become the old and something new will come up thats works better for the world and it’s inhabitants. So, I don’t understand why people feel like oil needs to be treated like a loved one and made sure that it always gets to eat at the table. YOU have no moral tie to this thing, its okay to let it go.

        4. Why is there oil under the Poles? 450 million years ago and more, the polar landscapes were tropical rainforest where dinosaurs roamed.

          You can find out abut these facts by doing easy Google searches. Also try plate tectonics.

        5. Why, then, does every major oil company insist on using the term “fossil fuel” in their published materials? Has Al Gore taken over the major oil companies, transformed them into watermelons, or has he simply hacked their websites?

          Disclosure: Most of my personal income is generated by my ownership in oil and natural gas fields in Texas and Oklahoma. The current rise in oil prices will be funding my next vacation. I do not drive a Prius. I did not vote for Al Gore.

          1. Then your income is blood money, the moral equivalent of plantation slavery profits. You should be donating it to Al Gore and investing in new technologies that will help our children recover from the scourge you have helped perpetrate, not bragging about how your vacation is paid for on their backs.

            Yes, I am serious. You can’t help what money you came into, but you are responsible for what you do with it. Your choices and obvious pride at your immorality are repulsive.

            1. Do you ever ride in a motor vehicle? Do you own even one mutual fund? If so, then welcome to the blood money club.

              Aim your sanctimony at someone you know something about.

            2. My power as a consumer is dwarfed by your power as an investor. Consumers can only choose from what is avaiable. Investors can create.

              Besides AAPL I own mostly greentech funds. I view this as a moral choice more than one driven by profit, at least short term. I dont have kids yet. By the time my kids need that money, I figure either those green funds will have really taken off- or my kids will be a whole lot more hosed by economic and climate collapse than worrying about why their inheritance is a few dollars less.

            3. We use iPhones and iPads made by desperate people in 3rd world countries that suffer toxic poisoning and other risks. Just because we use these devices does not explain away and justify it. We would love to NOT use devices made by oppressed people and actions such as Apple has taken is improving the lives of these workers. The same should be done for energy sources.

        6. You only have so much blood. The Earth is no different. From a practical standpoint, all systems that are likely to be relevant to the human race in the foreseeable future are finite. No growth without limit. No consumption without limit. Choose wisely.

        7. Fossil fuel is just that, fossil fuel. It isn’t regenerating very quickly. The Mississippi delta will be a good source of fresh coal in a few million years but don’t go looking for it any time soon.

          The thing is, cheap fossil fuels are running out. There are lots of expensive fossil fuels left. The coal deposits in North America alone could keep the world in energy, at today’s growth rates, for hundreds if years.

          Our problem is, do we want to live like we’re on the set of Little House on the Prairie? Do we want to start building nuclear reactors? Do we want to retain the status quo and listen to the greenies incessantly whine for the rest of our lives? Do we want to replant the equatorial rain forests and get some serious carbon sinking going? Do we want to drill geothermal wells and heat and/or cool whole subdivisions at a time?

          There are many ways to combat the status quo.

          I’m all for rounding up and shooting all the greenies, but that’s just me.

          1. I know your joking about the shooting comment, but please don’t think anyone is so different from you, even killing them brings you no remorse.

    2. Yeah man you’re right, they are here for a reason. Problem is, the reason isn’t us burning them or turning them into plastic. No sir, the reason the fossil fuels are serving is something entirely different. We’ll find out what purpose they were serving after we’ve milked the earth of them…

    3. Google “Peak Oil” if you want terrify the crap out of yourself. And it’s not that “running out of oil” is an actual problem, it isn’t. The problem is producing enough to meet supply, and when we are just a few barrels short, the WORLD’s economy comes crashing down. Fuel costs then spike, which causes ALL other costs to spike, food durable goods, etc. Everything you can see around you was brought to you by cheap oil. And those days are gone forever. The 2008-2009 recession wasn’t caused by financial institutions or bad home loans, it was caused by skyrocketing fuel prices. And another recession is right around the bend. I’m sure we’ll blame the next recession on bad Obama polices or a commercial real estate bubble, but it’s really us running out of enough oil for growth.

        1. NO JOKE: I am buying iPhones and other such devices because I *know* that we won’t have the opportunity to do so in a few more years. You think I’m crazy? Do your homework. Oil is not just about gasoline and cars. We won’t have plastic (actually we will, but it will be too expensive to buy). Even coal requires gasoline trucks to mine/deliver. I haven’t even mentioned food (agriculture).

    4. There are some obvious tell tale signs that any machine is inefficient or poorly designed.

      – How much heat it gives off. Unless a machine is a heater, all heat it generates is wasted energy.
      – How much noise it makes. Unless the machine is supposed to be a speaker, all sonic energy it creates is wasted energy.
      – How much toxic pollution is generated during normal use. Unless the machine is supposed to kill things, then any toxic pollution it creates is wasteful and needlessly destructive.

      Judging by these very clear metrics, fossil fuel engines are distressingly bad machines. Insisting that fossil fuel engines are an ideal machine for any task shows a real lack of understanding of what is possible with engineering and design and what makes good technology.

        1. CO2 is toxic pollution, in excessive atmospheric concentrations. Ask the millions of species that are already and will continue to go extinct because we are changing those concentrations. Also toxic to human economies as is becoming clearer by the day.

        2. Car exhaust has carbon monoxide, benzine, and other toxic hydrocarbons. Suffocating oneself in a garage with car exhaust is a common method of suicide. Everyone knows car exhaust is toxic. How stupid are you?

    5. Are fossils fuels here for electricity production? Transportation? Fertilizer production? Lubrication? Plastics?

      Just what is the reason? And is there enough for 6+ billion people and all of those reasons for centuries to come?

      There will be an energy crisis and it will be because of people like you who fail to think long term.

    6. The Sun has been here forever & delivers HUGE amount of natural energy onto the Earth everyday. WHY aren’e we spending billions of dollars on that clean energy source instead of toxic fossil fuels like coal & oil?

    1. No, he’s saying that if you can’t go big, you can’t solve the problem. Big problems can’t be solved with small solutions. He’s not even saying that the “cute” solutions can’t work. He’s simply arguing they can’t work economically.

      And if we focus on a big break through for developing countries we can be optimistic and assume they’ll work for developed countries as well, making the “cute” solutions unnecessary.

    2. The end solution is generally a combination of solutions. Big mega-solar plants are a piece of the picture. So is local active and passive solar, wind, wave/current, nuclear…

      Bill needs to stop thinking in terms of a “Windows monopoly.”

    1. It’s beyond a consideration. India is investing heavily in thorium reactors and we’ll likely end up having to buy from them. China is also investing, but less so than they are in pebble bed technology. Here too the US is falling behind.

      One area that also holds promise, given the economics of traditional large plants, are nuclear “batteries” like those developed under consideration by Hyperion. Built in a factory, not on site. Ship or truck it to where it’s needed.

      1. Yeah everything I’ve read shows tech being developed elsewhere. The US is being held back by strong entrenched industries who don’t want any real progress or competition.

        We’ll eventually get it, but not after a period of severe hardship because there isn’t any real transitional period going on right now.

        1. 1

          Corruption is the problem. Fossils are biggest industries the world has ever seen. Their corruption, which they euphemistically call “lobbying” and “electoral expenditures,” is commensurate. Their corruption should be banned like any other. Their products are crap and would be quickly abandoned if forced to stand on their own merits.

    2. I don’t know what thorium reactors are but if they use a finite resource (like plutonium) it’s still a problem. Only solar is the ultimate (when the sun dies, we got more problems than powering cars and computers). Plutonium sources are estimated to 10 to 20 years if we went completely nuclear to power today’s stuff.

  1. I’m just glad he’s out there with some ideas. But I don’t understand why a big solar farm in the middle of the dessert is a solution, and everyone having solar on the roofs isn’t. I live in Miami Beach, and if everyone had solar on their roofs, it would cut our energy use in half or more.

    1. Half our energy? Not even close. And that’s during the daytime. What will you do at night? There are no economical storage technologies, so you end up relying on the local power plant.

      Even the best solar technology is low density energy, with a pay-back of 15-20 years absent subsidies. And requires a supporting infrastructure to smooth out the power and give you the AC you expect. Large plants in the desert do provide some economies of scale, but they remain “low density” and thus take a LOT of land which can’t easily serve other purposes.

  2. there have been a lot of articles the last year or two about decentralizing the electrical grid, that doing things locally is more efficient that having everything wired together with big plants of whatever kind scattered around. the developing nations are taking this approach with their telephony needs. seems like there might be something in between “cute” and huge centralized plants. my other instinct is to think that bill gates can’t possibly be right about anything so look for alternatives to whatever he says.

    1. You guys are still thinking inside the box.

      The problem is demand is outstripping supply. And there is no viable solution now to boost supply.

      So, you must strip demand.

  3. And what is this doing on MDN?

    Are you covering every gaseous emission of Gates? Please don’t!

    Energy policy? Once you start, where do you stop? At least Al Gore is a Mac user.

      1. But has Rush contributed anything unique to the energy discussion, regardless of his position.

        Granted, there are those who regard him as a large source of hot air, but such hot air sources, while common, are not too useful. You can include Al Gore.

  4. Bill, one way to save energy globally is to outlaw the immense waste of human and energy waste that is called Windows, that, thanks to you, has already cost the planet incalculable loss of productivity and thereby energy.

    1. Right, because Saudi Arabia’s “proven” reserves are actually proven… right. They’re currently pumping as much sea water as they can into their fields to push up the remaining, thick and tarry low quality oil, just to keep up with they’re quotas. And the last two times we’ve asked them to increase output, to help lower costs, they haven’t been able to. Because they’re lying about proven reserves, just like every other middle east country.

      Besides, what does Peter Jackson know about Peak Oil? They don’t even use oil in Middle Earth.

    2. The current consumption is largely for the benefit of 1 of the planets 6 billion inhabitants. Why should we believe the other 5 will be satisfied with their $1/per day lifestyle for the next 122 years? Whether Peak Oil happened in 2005 or will happen in 2030, the longer we wait to find alternative solutions, the farther the fall will be before hitting bottom.

  5. If you ever want to see how somebody just doesn’t get it, on a massive scale, read Gates’ ghost-written book: The Road Ahead. I particularly recommend the first, First Edition, the 1995 one without any mention of the internet. Those are rare, he had unsold ones pulled off the shelves and replaced with a new “First” Edition with the internet shoehorned in.

  6. B.G disses those ‘cute tech’ then we find out’ ” he’s investing undisclosed millions (in TerraPower) ”

    I’m no expert in solar power or windmills etc but I just watched the ‘Garbage Warrior’ video about the guy who builds self contained off the grid communities called ‘earthships’ . Self powered houses that don’t need external power in -30 degree winters. Interesting stuff.

  7. I live in Phoenix, and Gates telling me that equipping every house in Phoenix with solar panels wouldn’t make a difference? That’s no different than his grand desert solar farms, and doesn’t consume natural desert spaces, either.

    Sure, solar tech isn’t very far along and is currently pricey, but it will improve and get cheaper. Solar’s not a great solution if you live in Canada, but more efficient panels can be developed.

    Solar’s not the answer, but it certainly should be researched and improved. In many places around the world, efficient solar panels could greatly reduce (but not eliminate) the reliance on oil/gas/coal/nuclear power plants.

    Gates doesn’t like it because he can’t make money off of Joe & Mary sticking solar panels on their roof.

    1. Bizlaw, thanks for hitting the nail on the head. Gates still favors large corporations, and anything that can be cheaply or easily dealt with by an individual, and gives individuals back power, control, and autonomy is antithesis to the big corporation mindset.

  8. Cute tech? Isn’t that how he always dismissed Mac, and iPod, and iPhone? “Well, Apple certainly has a lead in colors…”

    Beware of Terra Power. It will be built to same exacting standards as Windows, maybe less since its in developing (third world) countries, and will be ran by Windows, just to pour salt in the wound and add insult to injury.

  9. WRONG. every watt of clean energy that takes a dirty watt out of the system, is part of the answer. It’s a NET effect.

    Decentralized, local production of energy is the future. Gates is looking at this through a Monopolist Oligarch lens.

    1. “Every watt of clean energy is a dirty watt out of the system.”

      Wait! When the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine, clean energy needs watts and watts of dirty energy to make it practical. The gaps when no clean power is generated, only a gas powered turbine generator can be fired up in seconds and fill the gap. Clean energy needs almost as much dirty energy to make it viable.

      Besides, gas fired generators only produce carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide and water are the building blocks of life on earth. How can they be evil?

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